In 2008, one year ahead of national elections and against the backdrop of the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, the government of India enacted one of the largest borrower bailout programs in history. The program known as the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme (ADWDRS) unconditionally cancelled fully or partially, the debts of up to 60 million rural households across the country, amounting to a total volume of US$ 16–17 billion.
The ‘safety trap’ hypothesis and secular stagnation
Noting that Eurozone inflation has been declining for almost a year, and constantly undershooting forecasts, Landau (2104) suggests that underpinning those evolutions, including the lack of growth, might be one factor: an excess demand for ‘safe assets’. Essentially — Landau argues — agents have responded to extreme risk aversion by developing a strong inclination for holding liquid and safe assets (typically money and government bonds). In order to accumulate more of these assets, they have reduced consumption and investment, thus depressing aggregate demand. When inflation is low and the economy hits the zero lower bound (ZLB), interest rates cannot reach their (negative) equilibrium levels and the economy falls into what Landau refers to as a ‘safety trap’, with cumulative disinflation, increasing real interest rates, and depression setting in. This sounds as a plausible explanation for secular stagnation in the Eurozone.
In a new paper, we address this question using detailed manufacturing census data from India. India offers an ideal laboratory for testing the role of institutions on firm lifecycle given the large persistent differences in institutions, business environment, and income across different regions. Specifically, we examine the relationship between plant size, age, and growth and ask: how does local financial development influence the size-age relationship? Are there differences in the size-age relationship across different industry characteristics and between the formal and informal manufacturing sector and does this vary with the extent of local financial development? Does the role of local financial development on firm lifecycle vary with major regulation changes in India such as financial liberalization, changes in labor regulation, and industry de-licensing?
Since the late 1990s, the importance of multinational banks has grown dramatically. Between 1999 and 2009 the average share of bank assets held by foreign banks in developing countries rose from 26 percent to 46 percent. The bulk of the pre-global crisis evidence analyzing the consequences of this significant transformation in bank ownership suggests that foreign bank participation brought many benefits to developing countries, especially in terms of bank competition and efficiency.
The recent global financial crisis, however, highlighted the role of multinational banks in the transmission of shocks across countries. Most of the research has focused on transmission through the lending channel – how foreign bank lending behaved during the crisis. A number of papers, including some before the recent global crisis, have documented that lending by foreign bank affiliates declines when parent banks’ financial conditions deteriorate.
One of the main obstacles that firms in developing countries face is lack of access to credit. A key factor that restricts access is insufficient collateral. Interestingly, banks in less-developed countries usually lend only against real estate; they rarely lend against other assets such as machinery, equipment, or inventory. The problem is that assets such as machines and equipment often account for most of the capital stock of small and medium-size firms. In this context, these assets become “dead capital”: they lose their debt capacity and only serve as inputs in the firms’ production processes.
While it’s true that machines and equipment are less redeployable than real estate, banks in developed countries do lend against these types of assets. In a recent study with Murillo Campello, we argue that the root of the problem lies in weak collateral laws. The law makes a clear distinction between two types of assets: immovable assets (e.g., real estate) and movable assets (e.g., machinery and equipment). Developing countries have weak collateral laws regarding movable assets, which makes its very difficult to pledge these assets as collateral. This shrinks the contracting space, since the menu of collateral becomes smaller, which limits access to credit. Moreover, since movable assets lose debt capacity, firms under-invest in technologies intensive in movable assets.
Branchless banking and mobile solutions in developing countries tend to be dominated by very few large (mostly telco) players, focus narrowly on the payment function of money that calls for a national footprint, elicit relatively infrequent usage from the majority of customers, and exhibit low levels of service innovation. There are few examples globally of what I call an intensive model: smaller players making the business economics work by driving much greater usage from a much smaller customer base.
Tackling financial inclusion — that is, making financial services truly a mass-market offering — will require more, and more diverse, players contributing variously their resources, inventiveness and goodwill. We need more players jumping in: to create more competitive tensions and force more service and business model differentiation, but also because in most markets the usual path to scale is through specialization.
Access to formal financial services has been expanding in recent years. But as people start to use these services for the first time, it has become clear that the challenge is not only providing access to financial services, but also ensuring that people have the behaviors and attitudes to use financial products responsibly and to their advantage. If not, increased access to finance could potentially lead to over-indebtedness and even financial crises.
Two recent nationwide surveys of 1,526 adults in Colombia and of 2,022 adults in Mexico measure financial capability to provide insights on how people manage their finances. The term “financial capability” refers to a broader concept than financial literacy or knowledge alone. It covers a number of different behaviors and attitudes related to participation in financial decisions, planning and monitoring the use of money, and balancing income and expenses to make ends meet.
The financial capability surveys find for example that, in Mexico, many make financial plans, but far fewer adhere to them. Seventy percent of those surveyed say they budget, but just one-third reported consistently adhering to a budget. Similarly, just 18 percent knew how much they spent last week. In Colombia, while 94 percent of adults reported budgeting how income would be spent, less than a quarter of those surveyed actively monitored spending or had precise knowledge of how much is available for daily expenses.
Attend a seminar or read a report on Islamic finance and chances are you will come across a figure between $1 trillion and $1.6 trillion, referring to the estimated size of the global Islamic assets. While these aggregate global figures are frequently mentioned, publically available bank-level data have been much harder to come by.
Considering the rapid growth of Islamic finance, its growing popularity in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, and its emerging role in global financial industry, especially after the recent global financial crisis, it is imperative to have up-to-date and reliable bank-level data on Islamic financial institutions from around the globe.
To date, there is a surprising lack of publically available, consistent and up-to-date data on the size of Islamic assets on a bank-by-bank basis. In fairness, some subscription-based datasets, such Bureau Van Dijk’s Bankscope, do include annual financial data on some of the world’s leading Islamic financial institutions. Bank-level data are also compiled by The Banker’s Top Islamic Financial Institutions Report and Ernst & Young’s World Islamic Banking Competitiveness Report, but these are not publically available and require subscription premiums, making it difficult for many researchers and experts to access. As a result, data on Islamic financial institutions are associated with some level of opaqueness, creating obstacles and challenges for empirical research on Islamic finance.
How does deposit insurance affect bank stability? This is a question that has been around for a while but has come up again after the global financial crisis. In response to the crisis, a number of countries substantially increased the coverage of their safety nets in order to restore market confidence and to avert potential contagious runs on their banking sectors. Critiques worry that such actions are likely to further undermine market discipline, causing more instability down the line. My earlier research on this issue suggests that on average deposit insurance can exacerbate moral hazard problems in bank lending, making systems more fragile. In other words, particularly in institutionally under-developed countries, banks have a tendency to exploit the availability of insured deposits and increase their risk, making the financial system more crises prone. This is ironic since deposit insurance is supposed to make the systems more stable, not less.
But what if the impact of deposit insurance on stability varies depending on the economic conditions? Does deposit insurance help stabilize banking systems by enhancing depositor confidence during turbulent times?
From 2006 to 2009, growth of bank deposits dropped by over 12 percentage points globally. The most affected by the 2008 global crisis were upper middle income countries that experienced a drop of 15 percentage points on average. Individual countries such as Azerbaijan, Botswana, Iceland, and Montenegro switched from deposit growth of 58 percent, 31 percent, 57 percent, and 94 percent in 2007 to deposit declines (or a complete stop in deposit growth) of -2 percent, 1 percent, -1 percent, -8 percent in 2009, respectively.
In times of financial stress, depositors get anxious, can run on banks, and withdraw their deposits (Diamond and Dybvig, 1983). Large depositors are usually the first ones to run (Huang and Ratnovski, 2011). By the law of large numbers, correlated deposit withdrawals could be mitigated if bank deposits are more diversified. Greater diversification of deposits could be achieved by enabling a broader access to and use of bank deposits, i.e. involving a greater share of adult population in the use of bank deposits (financial inclusion). Based on this assumption, broader financial inclusion in bank deposits could significantly improve resilience of banking sector funding and thus overall financial stability (Cull et al., 2012).